I’m going to veer from my usual geek/parenting posts to talk about how I started my business without spending any money or taking on any debt. This is geared toward retail and craft business, but I think some of the principles could apply to any business.
I started Three Muses Inspired Clothing in 2005, after selling a bunch of my old costumes on eBay and discovering there was a market for what I do. By 2007 I quit my regular job and went full time with the costume business. In 2009 I opened a retail boutique, which I ran for 7 years. During that entire time, I was never in debt, I didn’t even owe money on a credit card. My business did well because I started with a good foundation. When I closed in 2016 it was because I wanted to focus on my family and new baby. And I knew if I wanted to do it again, I already knew how to get it started
So here’s the 10 steps I followed to create my business. This isn’t an overnight solution. It’s a long term method for people who are ready to get started working toward their goals instead of just talking about them and dreaming.
- Forget about the business plan. If I sat around trying to write a business plan then I may have never gotten started. My plan looked something like this: Make things, Sell them, Open store, Sell more things. Just know what you want to do, and start doing it in some small way.
- Stop asking for money and start earning it. When I went to the SBA, I was the only one in the room with 20k in the bank and actually ready to start a business. Everyone else was there to find out how to get funding and apply for loans. Now everyone wants to get quick money with crowdfunding. Wat happened to earning and saving for something you want?
- This is where the retail-specific advice starts – start selling on eBay (or some other well established sales site). Sell stuff you already have or stuff you make. Price it to sell. I sold my old costumes and then when I ran out of costumes I started pulling old clothes out and transforming them into costumes to sell. I also sold a lot of extra junk I had around the house. I started with eBay because it’s easy, you already have a ready audience and it doesn’t cost anything unless you sell something.
- Open a PayPal account and use it only for business. All sales go into the account and any purchases for the business should come out of that account, not your personal bank account.
- Reinvest that money into the business and don’t use it for anything else. In the future, don’t use credit cards if you can’t pay it off all at once.
- Use your time on the sales site to learn about your business- what sells, best pricing, how to ship, dealing with international sales, etc.
- When you move out of hobby mode and actually start making enough money to call it a business, then get legal. You can visit your local SBA for help on this. They will let you know what you need to do (business license, Tax ID, zoning, etc.) Once you have all the legal stuff squared away, you can open a business bank account.
- When you have your own customer base then move to your own website and start crafting your brand.
- Promote the hell out of yourself without spending a ton of money on advertising by going out and getting involved in the community. I made costumes so dressed up and went to conventions and handed out cards. I promoted my product by getting out and being seen and photographed wearing it.
- Keep saving and reinvesting. Make regular deposits from PayPal to your business bank account. Once you’ve saved up enough, start shopping for a place to open your store. (Or do whatever big business move you were saving up for) Congrats, goal achieved!
The unique thing about starting a business this way is that you should already have a successful web business by the time you make a big leap or big investment. So you have a safety net. My website floated my store for the first year. Then things evened out and by the end the store outsold the website. This is a totally unconventional method, but it worked for me so I figure it could work for others too. I wanted to share since I see so many people wanting to start a business but not making progress because they are too busy just looking for funding. It’s more rewarding to start working toward your goal and fund it yourself. Unless you need like a million dollars to get started building jumbo jets or something. Then yeah, you should probably start looking at funding and investors. lol.
Good Luck! And if you have a small biz you are trying to get going, feel free to advertise yourself in the comments 🙂